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Najib needs to restore trust deficit among urban voters, say political experts

SINGAPORE — Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is facing a huge trust deficit as a result of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal especially among urban voters, and he will need to win them over to gain a good result for the next general election, say political experts.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak leaves parliament in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Jan 26, 2016. Photo: Reuters

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak leaves parliament in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Jan 26, 2016. Photo: Reuters

SINGAPORE — Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is facing a huge trust deficit as a result of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal especially among urban voters, and he will need to win them over to gain a good result for the next general election, say political experts.

“The biggest challenge is to try and restore trust among the people especially in the urban areas as they have become more skeptical and critical of the government due to the (1MDB) issue,” said Dr Chandra Muzaffar, chairman of 1Malaysia Foundation during a panel discussion on key issues leading up to the next Malaysian election at the Regional Outlook Forum 2017 organised by the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute on Monday (jan 9) afternoon.

The urban population, Dr Muzaffar said, is very much in the know about the comings and goings of the 1MDB issue. Dr Muzaffar — who heads the non-profit foundation promoting national unity and is also a political scientist said it would be easy to restore faith and trust by being “transparent and honest”, if Mr Najib says he is prepared to come clean on the scandal, and “implies that he will step down”.

“However, he (Mr Najib) is not prepared to do that and that is the real problem.”

State investment fund 1MDB is under investigation by, among others, the United States Justice Department and Singapore authorities.

Mr Najib, who denies wrongdoing, sacked his deputy, Mr Muhyiddin Yassin, as well as another federal minister, Mr Mohd Shafie Apdal, for raising questions on 1MDB.

Dr Muzaffar, a former opposition leader, noted that the failure of the political elite to be honest and accountable - when investigations and court proceedings in other countries are revealing the truth behind 1MDB, has become a major issue for the 14th general election.

Malaysia’s general election is not due till mid-2018 but analysts have said that Mr Najib may call for snap polls as he has weathered a year of political storm and fending off the 1MDB corruption scandal.

Mr Najib has also overseen warming relations with opposition Parti Islam Se-Malaysia in what is seen as a bid to gain more Malay votes.

Dr Muzaffar also noted that if opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) is able to prove to voters that it is a viable and cohesive coalition to administer the country, ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) will be in “deep trouble”.

Commenting on the battleground state of Selangor, which the ruling party has vowed to reclaim from the opposition, former de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim said at the sidelines of the forum that PH is likely to retain the state.

He said for Selangor - which has a sizeable number of urban voters, people are well aware of the current issues plaguing the country unlike those from the rural areas. “The race and religion cards are not effective anymore, as they (young voters) are well read.”

Mr Zaid said the opposition should strengthen their position by agreeing on the seats they are contesting and to draw up a proper and cohesive manifesto.

“Spend time on it (manifesto), talk about things that people want and care about.”

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